So how often has this contract cancellation business happened? With Moonlight Mesa Associates, this is a first as far as I can recall. However, with every author we sign, we would willingly let someone out of a contract unless we had already committed a lot of time and money to the project, in which case we would need to be reimbursed. I can't think of anything worse than publishing a book from an unwilling author. Doesn't make much sense, especially because we depend on our authors to help sell and promote their work. However, if we had time and money in the project, I doubt I'd be so easy-going about the idea.
I suspect the idea of "getting out of a contract" is fairly rare. Most authors seem to be thrilled to have a publisher, and usually publishers just drop authors whose books don't sell. When we cancel a book because of lack of sales, which we have done, all rights revert to the author. We have cancelled only two books that I can recall. We have, however, removed books from the Ingram electronic catalog, which effectively makes a title unavailable to vendors, but even then we usually keep the removed titles in print and sell them ourselves. There is a $12 yearly fee to keep a book listed in the Ingram electronic catalog. If the book doesn't sell online for two years running, we simply drop it from the catalog. Most publishers don't wait anywhere near as long as we do. We keep a poor-performing book available in the catalog only if the author is actively engaged in promoting and selling it.
So, why would an author not work at promoting or selling his/her book? The problem lies in temperament. Most authors make terrible salespeople. I don't know if this is because writing is a"solitary" activity which attracts people who aren't gregarious or extroverts or what. This may not be the case at all, but it is a rare author who sells with as much gusto as they write.
Several of our authors do superb jobs at both writing and selling. A prime example is Lee Anderson, author of Developing the Art of Equine Communication. Lee is an outgoing, extroverted guy if there ever was one. Rusty Richards, author of Casey Tibbs - Born to Ride, is another natural at selling. What both of these people have in common is that they are both showmen: Lee appears at numerous western shows and events in Arizona; Rusty is a western singer and performer.
Robert Walton, Dawn Drums, is another author who is successful at selling his work. Again, Robert is an active, outgoing personality and very much a showman. J.R. Sanders, author of Some Gave All and The Littlest Wrangler, is a more sedate, quiet person, but he has been quite successful at promoting his books because he knows his audience! And finally, Jere D. James, author of the seven-book Jake Silver Series, is a salesperson.
Our other authors either run out of steam, get distracted, or find the work of selling books too difficult and often depressing. Nothing is worse than having an event and selling only one or two books. It smarts, but it happens to everyone one time or another. The truly committed don't throw in the towel. My opinion for what it's worth!